Spouse disrupting your sleep? It may be time for a 'sleep divorce'

When snoring and other issues keep one partner awake, sleeping in separate beds or bedrooms may help. But how do you ask?

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/ Source: TODAY
By A. Pawlowski

When couples love each other but dread bedtime together, a “sleep divorce” may be the solution.

Snoring, body heat, restless legs, different schedules and a yearning for personal space are just some of the reasons why some happy couples choose to sleep apart, whether in separate beds in the same room, or in separate rooms altogether.

A survey of 3,000 Americans posted on a mattress review site found about 31% of respondents would like a “sleep divorce” in their relationship. That’s consistent with a National Sleep Foundation survey that reported almost 1 in 4 American couples sleep in separate bedrooms or beds.

"If you're not taking care of your sleep, you are hurting your marriage," Dr. Mehmet Oz warned on Thursday. "The biggest challenge is people have to plan ahead."

TODAY's Carson Daly said he and his wife got a "sleep divorce" in September while renovating their house. He has sleep apnea and she's pregnant, so the arrangement has suited them both.

"We don't want to sleep apart, but we have now and I think secretly, we're like, 'This is kind of cool,' because you get command of the whole room," he said.

"Sometimes, you just want to have your own space," added Sheinelle Jones. Some of the hosts said their spouses build a "pillow wall" in bed to create their own space without officially sleeping apart.

The arrangements can vary. Michael Breus, a Los Angeles-area clinical psychologist who is also known as "The Sleep Doctor," told TODAY he knows some couples who sleep separately during the week, but together on the weekends. It may be worth trying it out three times a week at first to see how it feels, Oz advised.

One Utah couple credited their separate bedrooms for a healthy sex life after eight years of marriage. He’s a night owl, while she prefers to wake up earlier, so they both enjoy their own space at night. It’s turned out to be a satisfying arrangement.

“Let's face it — lack of energy is a far greater threat to an active sex life than lack of opportunity. And we are better rested,” Daryl Austin of Orem, Utah, wrote in a Los Angeles Times column last year.

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“We also get a chance to miss each other … nights apart are the only time we actually get to feel a longing for the other person. That longing results in a happy reunion every morning, a sort of ‘fresh start’ button we push at the dawn of every day.”

For other couples, sleeping apart is a serious matter of getting a good night’s rest.

Erica Scoville of Richland, Washington, told TODAY her husband Mike’s body heat and snoring kept her from getting the sleep she needed, which meant “bedtime was a potential war zone.” Retiring to separate bedrooms at night was the solution for the couple, who are in their 40s.

“It’s important for people to remember that sleeping together doesn’t always save a marriage any more than sleeping apart ruins a marriage,” Scoville said. “It’s sleep, and sleep is really important to everyone. But even more important than that is loving each other enough to try something that makes life a bit easier for your partner.”

How to talk to your partner:

Tamara Green, a New York couples therapist, said she has seen the arrangement improve patients’ relationships and love lives. It’s “absolutely” still possible to maintain a good sexual connection, she noted.

“They get enough rest and they feel like they are able to hear each other out and get their needs met,” Green told TODAY.

Still, the subject can be difficult to broach with a partner. Green had these tips for people who want to try sleeping in a bed or bedroom of their own:

Discuss the new arrangements before taking the step towards sleeping apart:

Start with letting your partner know why you love and appreciate him, then bring up that you haven’t been sleeping well.

Stay away from the word “you,” as in, “You keep me up at night.” Instead, use the word “we” — “We don’t seem to have a completely restful night of sleep because we just have different sleep styles.” That way, you’re not blaming, but explaining. When couples do this, the defenses go way down, Green said.

Suggest a change: “I’m wondering if you’re open to trying things that may work for both of us. I only bring this up because I deeply care about you and our relationship and the quality of our sleep.”

Schedule together time before heading to separate beds:

Take opportunities to touch each other throughout the day. Hug in the kitchen or snuggle while watching TV, for example, Green said. Take quick moments to feel excited with your partner.

Schedule sex in your calendar and make it a priority on those days, she advised. Don’t forget to schedule date nights, too.

Express your appreciation:

Green suggested saying: “I’m so grateful that we can work these things out together. That’s why I fell in love with you in the first place.” Or: “I really appreciate that you’re hearing how hard it is for me to sleep.”

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